Thursday, December 3, 2015

Caution for California crab lovers

A nasty little algae has been blooming like crazy lately (thanks, global warming!) and it's having some pretty serious consequences for Dungeness-loving consumers in California. The diatom, Pseudo-nitzschia sp., produces domoic acid, and at the high productivity rate it's experiencing because of warmer ocean conditions, the domoic acid is startin' trouble. When consumed at high concentrations, domoic acid can cause seizures, comas, and death! Yikes! It also causes short-term memory loss, so when people (or animals) get it from eating shellfish, it's known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning. (Remember learning about Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning here?) The domoic acid bioaccumulates in filter feeders like clams, mussels, and crabs (!!!) who just want to munch on some phytoplankton.

"Lay off me, I'm starving!" - Metacarcinus magister (PC Brian Feulner)

Speaking of crabs, California has closed its recreational and commercial crab seasons for both Dungeness and rock crabs because of this domoic acid contamination! This closure not only affects consumers (in a good way, really, because DEATH), but also the fishermen themselves who rely on these crabs for their livelihood. So it's kinda a lose-lose situation at the moment: fishermen lose money and their ability to pay their bills-bills-bills, or consumers run the risk of short-term memory loss, paralysis, and death.

How realistic is this concern? Well, dead sea otters have been reported with domoic acid in their systems, several large whales have washed up dead and the toxic diatom is a suspect (PS, the dog in the 3rd picture is adorable!), and even this little sea lion pup was poisoned in utero:

little Danzig in recovery, lucky guy! (PC Paul Chinn, The Chronicle)

Cuteness aside, it's an issue that needs to be monitored, and all my dungie-loving people out there should remain cautious about where your crab were caught and how they were prepared!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Wearable crabs

OK, you know I love me some good crab swag (see exhibit A (for 'awesome', and 'Amelia')), but a new company is taking crab swag up a notch! Tidal Vision is going to take the old carapaces of snow crabs and turn them into shirts and other clothes! Doesn't that sound amazing?!? And strange, potentially smelly, and likely scratchy?

not that Maru minds...

Nope, don't worry: Tidal Vision assures that the fabric feels similar to cotton. And a bonus is that it has natural anti-bacterial and -microbial properties! Because of those properties, they're marketing the shirts as performance wear called "Chitoskin". Brilliant!

So what is chitosan, you're asking? Chitosan comes from chitin, which is what crustacean shells are made of. By treating chitin with sodium hydroxide (NaOH aka lye), you get chitosan! Those of you who took high school chemistry may remember using sodium hydroxide to increase the pH of an acidic solution. Mmmm, titrations!

ANYWAY, Tidal Vision is using snow crab shells, as well as salmon skins for wallets and belts, to reduce waste from the fisheries. That's something I can definitely wear proudly!

(from Tidal Vision)

OH MY GOSH, by the way, I guess the whole cat-in-a-crab-hat thing happens A LOT in Japan! I will post photos of my cats if I get them wearing Dungies!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Crab Carpet!

Red tuna crabs (Pleuroncodes planipes) have washed up on Californian shores!

(photo from here)

Cue the line for cocktail sauce! These little crabs are actually squat lobsters (similar to my favorite squat lobster, the yeti crab), and are also called 'langostilla'. They get the name 'tuna crab' because they're a favorite meal for tuna! (Mmmm, crab-stuffed tuna...) Anyways, warm ocean currents may have carried them too close to shore for these little guys to avoid getting beached, but this happens sometimes when they swarm together in order to mate. So... that didn't go so well for them...

(photo: John Gibbins)

Read more about other crab strandings here and here, and here for krill!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

long lost family members

When you think of lobster relatives you probably picture crabs and shrimp, not cockroaches and dragonflies. But it turns out that they may be more closely related than we originally thought! Researchers recently came together during the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting to discuss a reorganization of the family tree. Basically, instead of insects and crustaceans being separate branches, they may be part of the same branch called 'Pancrustacea':

This special symposium was co-organized by my Master's advisor friend, Sherry Tamone! In the past, researchers have noticed similarities between insects and crustaceans, but their methods for studying them differed. There are more genetic resources for insects while crustacean researchers focus on hormones (like me!). But, using this symposium as an example, they're coming together to find similarities. Take methyl farnesoate and insect juvenile hormone: they control growth and maturation in crustaceans and insects, respectively, but are inactive in their arthropod counter part. The link is that production of both are limited by the same enzymes!

sesquiterpenoids represent!

As Sherry says, "We should get comfortable eating crickets. It's all one big group." You can read more in Science and check out abstracts from the symposium here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Crabs rock!

Check out this awesome Alaskan rock formation:

Choris Peninsula, Kotzebue Sound "Crab Claw"
66 16.020 N, 161 54.520 W

It's from the Alaska ShoreZone Coastal Mapping and Imagery program, which has tasked itself with documenting geographic and biological resources along the 6,640 miles of Alaskan coastline! (That's more miles than the rest of the coastal states combined!) From the ShoreZone description of this shot: "One of the few rock outcrops in Kotzebue Sound, near the south end of the Choris Peninsula. The bedrock is resistant to erosion and stands as near vertical rock cliffs." Now that's a large claw if ever I saw one!

(If you watch this video, you can see the helicopter footage of the Crab Claw at 42:40!)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New year, new crab!

Well, kind of. Recently a woman in Honolulu noticed this guy walking down the street:

oh hey there!

Normally seeing a crab in Hawaii wouldn't be weird. But this guy is a coconut crab (remember learning about them here) and they are invasive in Hawaii. It might have just showed up for vacation, but what's more likely is that someone had bought the crab in hopes of making a tasty dinner - can you blame it for trying to run away!?!?

Just as a note, in the video (on the Huffington Post link) they keep saying how dangerous the crabs are because of their strong claws. Coconut crabs can break through coconuts and were rumored to crack skulls of sleepy castaways, but I'm not sure how dangerous they truly are. So here's the lesson: rumors will follow you, coconut crab. You may have escaped being dinner (it will now live at the Honolulu Zoo), but you can't escape the sins of your father! (Regardless, getting pinched by a small mud crab can hurt so I'd avoid these claws!)